In 1982, St. Andrews Episcopal Church and the Interfaith Council of Congregations formed a partnership to address the needs of adult individuals experiencing homelessness in Washtenaw County. This group became known as the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. This volunteer driven group rented a house in Ann Arbor on Division street where an average of 25 people experiencing homelessness slept on the mats on the floor each night.
Throughout the years, the Shelter Association moved to many different facilities. In 1984, With the help of the City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, the Shelter Association purchased and renovated a building on Huron Street to serve as an overnight shelter serving both men and women. In 1990 the Shelter Association opened a day shelter and service center on Ashley Street and in 1996 opened an overnight shelter for women on Felch Street providing help to fifteen women.
In 1997, Robert J. Delonis, Chairman of Great Lakes National bank (now TCF), is the first business leader to step forward to lead the charge in our community’s efforts to end homelessness as the Shelter Association is on the verge of disappearing with no other organizations prepared to shelter those in need. In 1998, the Shelter Association hires Ellen Schulmeister as it’s Executive Director. She works tirelessly to bring together community leaders to address homelessness in Washtenaw County.
In 2000, Sister Yvonne Gellise begins incubating and promoting the idea throughout the community of attacking the issue of homelessness by investing in organizations that actually seek to end the problem by eliminating root causes. Garry Faja and Barbara Penrod embrace her vision and lead the charge on behalf of Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in support of ending homelessness in our community. Efforts begin to build a new shelter for Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.
Thanks to the diligent work and advocacy of Jean Carlberg, Bob Guenzel, Leah Gunn and Frank Cambria, the plan to build a new shelter is unanimously approved by the Ann Arbor City Council and receives a majority vote of support from the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners.
Judy Rumelhart as Chair is joined by Joe Fitzsimmons, Del Dunbar and Pam Horiszny to form the Washtenaw Housing Alliance’s Fundraising Steering Committee, which ultimately raises more than $8.7 million to build a new shelter that will consolidate services into a single setting.
In 2001, As the first Executive Director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, Diane Davidson provides logistical support to fundraising efforts and directs the Alliance through the process of developing of A Blueprint to End Homelessness in Washtenaw County. In 2002, construction of the Robert J. Delonis Center begins.
In 2003, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approves the naming of the new shelter in honor of Robert J. Delonis whose inspiring commitment to the Shelter Association turned the dream of a new shelter into reality—an honor that Bob sadly did not live to see. Construction of the Robert J. Delonis Center is completed in November within budget and on time!
Today, The Shelter Association is a national model of public-private partnership. By collaborating with 30 other service providers on-site in a safe and caring environment, the Shelter offers the tools and help necessary to support individuals end their experience of homelessness permanently.